“I’ve smoked two packs of cigarettes a day for 40 years—what’s the use of quitting now?”
No matter your age, quitting smoking improves your health. If you quit smoking, you are likely to add years to your life, breathe more easily, and save money. You will also:
Smoking shortens your life. It causes about 1 of every 5 deaths in the United States each year. Smoking makes millions of Americans sick by causing:
Nicotine is the drug in tobacco that makes tobacco products addictive. People become addicted to nicotine. That’s one reason why the first few weeks after quitting are the hardest. Some people who give up smoking have withdrawal symptoms. They may feel grumpy, hungry, or tired. Some people have headaches, feel depressed, or have problems sleeping or concentrating. These symptoms fade over time. Some people have no withdrawal symptoms.
Josephine remembers she started smoking in high school because she wanted to be part of the “cool” crowd. That was more than 50 years ago. Now, she wishes she had never started. She has trouble breathing, many of her clothes have burns from cigarette ash, and her grandchildren complain she smells like smoke. But, she wonders if she’ll be able to stop after all these years.
Many people say the first step to stop smoking is to make a firm decision to quit and pick a definite date to stop. Then make a clear plan for how you will stick to it.
Your plan might include:
Find what works best for you. Using many approaches to quitting may be the answer.
Miguel joined the Navy right after college. He thought smoking made him look older. Pretty soon, he was hooked. Now, at 61, the doctor has told him he has emphysema and needs to stop smoking. His wife and children want him to stop, too. He wonders what can help him with withdrawal symptoms.
When you quit, you may need support to cope with your body’s desire for nicotine. Nicotine replacement products help some smokers quit. You can buy gum, patches, or lozenges over-the-counter.
There are also products that require a doctor’s prescription. A nicotine nasal spray or inhaler can reduce withdrawal symptoms and make it easier for you to quit smoking.
Other drugs may also help with withdrawal symptoms. Talk to your doctor about what medicines might be best for you.
Some people think smokeless tobacco (chewing tobacco and snuff), pipes, and cigars are safe. They are not. Smokeless tobacco causes cancer of the mouth and pancreas. It also causes pre-cancerous lesions known as oral leukoplakia, gum problems, and nicotine addiction. Pipe and cigar smokers may develop cancer of the mouth, lip, larynx, esophagus, and bladder. Those who inhale are also at increased risk of getting lung cancer.
Secondhand smoke created by cigarettes, cigars, and pipes can cause serious health problems for family, friends, and even pets of smokers. Secondhand smoke is especially dangerous for people who already have lung or heart disease. In adults, secondhand smoke can cause heart disease and lung cancer. In babies it can cause Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Children are also more likely to have lung problems, ear infections, and severe asthma if they are around secondhand smoke.
The good news is that after you quit:
No matter how old you are, all of these health benefits are important reasons to make a plan to stop smoking.
Clyde’s doctor told him he needed to quit smoking. Then, when his 16-year-old granddaughter asked him to stop smoking, he decided to try. Whenever he felt the urge to smoke, he ate carrot sticks or chewed gum instead. Sometimes, he would take a brisk walk until the urge to smoke passed. The walk had the added benefit of helping him lose some weight and become more active. A year later, he’s proud of his success, and his granddaughter’s smile makes it all worthwhile.
Here are some helpful resources:
American Cancer Society
250 Williams Street, NW
Atlanta, GA 30303
American Heart Association
7272 Greenville Avenue
Dallas, TX 75231
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Office on Smoking and Health
4770 Buford Highway MS K-50
Atlanta, GA 30341-3717
National Cancer Institute
Public Inquiries Office
6116 Executive Boulevard, Suite 300
Bethesda, MD 20892-8322
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
Health Information Center
P.O. Box 30105
Bethesda, MD 20824-0105
National Library of Medicine
For more information about health and aging, contact:
To sign up for regular email alerts about new publications and other information from the NIA, go to www.nia.nih.gov/health.
Visit www.nihseniorhealth.gov, a senior-friendly website from the National Institute on Aging and the National Library of Medicine. This website has health and wellness information for older adults. Special features make it simple to use. For example, you can click on a button to make the type larger.
National Institute on Aging
National Institutes of Health
U. S. Department of Health and Human Services
Publication Date: February 2013
Page Last Updated: February 13, 2014